- The Washington Times - Monday, March 30, 2009

RAMALLAH, WEST BANK (AP) - Yasser Arafat’s official Web site posted pictures Monday that it said showed the late Palestinian leader’s modest bedroom, offering a glimpse into the way he lived under Israeli siege during the final two years of his life.

The spartan room included a single bed, a lamp and a narrow closet containing Arafat’s iconic wardrobe: five military-style suits and four checkered black-and-white Palestinian scarfs.

Arafat lived under siege for two years at his West Bank compound, after Israel accused him of being behind a wave of suicide bombings. He died in a French hospital in November 2004. Arafat is buried in the same compound and the bedroom will be incorporated into a museum documenting his life.

The bedroom contained no windows and could only be accessed through a guard’s room, precautions against possible assassination. The sparse guards’ room had three bunk beds for his protectors with helmets strewn on the beds alongside gas masks.

Aside from the small bed and blanket, Arafat’s room had a worn-out patch of carpet, a drawing said to be by his daughter, Zahwa, a television set and video player and a prayer mat resting upon a chair. The room had three books _ including the Muslim holy book, the Quran.

A blue suitcase was placed above the closet _ the only indication of Arafat’s famous, frenetic world travels.

“It was his lifestyle,” said Nasser al-Qidwa, Arafat’s nephew and head of the Yasser Arafat Foundation, charged with preserving the former Palestinian leader’s legacy. “It wasn’t just his bedroom, it was his food and his life.”

Arafat was famous for his frugal lifestyle, earning him much popularity among impoverished Palestinians. He refrained from cigarettes _ unlike many of his chain-smoking comrades _ and insisted on simply prepared food.

While Arafat had few known possessions, he also had large sums of money at his disposal for PLO business and he and his associates were often accused of corruption. Arafat married Suha Tawil late in life and her lavish European lifestyle was widely criticized by average Palestinians.

She briefly lived in Gaza before moving to Paris and then Tunis with her daughter.

Monday’s pictures revealed Arafat’s bunkered-up lifestyle for the first time.

Arafat first emerged on the world stage in the 1970s for directing high-profile attacks against Israeli targets. As head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, he wandered between Jordan, Lebanon and Tunisia before arriving in the West Bank and Gaza Strip _ two swaths of territory Palestinians want for a state _ after launching secret peace negotiations with Israel in Oslo, Norway, in the 1990s.

Negotiations halted in 2000, and the Palestinians launched a second armed uprising against Israel shortly afterward. Israel then placed Arafat under siege in his compound, where he stayed for two years until he was evacuated to France in ill health.

Al-Qidwa said the late leader’s foundation was still amassing archive materials for the Web site, which took one year to build. He said the bedroom would be sealed to the public until it could be incorporated into a museum documenting Arafat’s life. He said designs for the museum were still being prepared.

Al-Qidwa said the room was painted after Arafat’s death and it has been cleaned regularly, but none of Arafat’s possessions has been removed. He said key items, such as the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Arafat and gifts from world leaders, were still in the Gaza Strip. Fatah’s rivals in the militant Islamic group Hamas seized power in that territory in June 2007 and have said they are preserving Arafat’s possessions in his Gaza City home.

The Yasser Arafat Foundation was created in February last year. Al-Qidwa said they spent $400,000 on collecting archive materials and creating the Web site, and that donors pledged around $6 million toward building the museum.


On the Net: https://www.yaf.ps/ya/yaf_pano/mazar_pano/mazar.htm

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